Should’ve stayed, were there signs I ignored?
Can I help you not to hurt anymore?
We saw brilliance when the world was asleep
There are things that we can have but can’t keep
– One More Light, Linkin Park
Saturday July 19, 2003
PCPD: Squad Room
Taggert rubbed his eyes and peered over the case report for maybe the third time—he remembered that Lucky had come to him, concerned about Vinnie’s interview with the victim and now, reading over the notes Vinnie had made for the first victim—
A sour feeling rolled in his gut as Taggert read over the conclusions — victim wearing low cut dress, alone in park, no good reason to be there, says she has no enemies but has had a lot of boyfriends. Christ, this read like an interview from a workshop he’d attended a few years earlier, one in which something like this had been given as an example of what not to do.
He glanced up to find the commissioner standing by his desk, his dark eyes sober and his features drawn tight. Taggert narrowed his eyes and rose to his feet. “Mac?”
“We just had a call from dispatch. An ambulance just rushed Brooke Lynn Ashton to the hospital.” His skin was nearly gray as he continued. “An overdose.”
“An over—” A heavy weight crashed down on his chest as Taggert struggled to take his next breath. His voice raspy, he asked, “Did they—”
“Dispatch said they took her in, but—” Mac shook his head. He closed his eyes and looked away. “It didn’t look good on the scene.”
Taggert wiped his hand over his mouth, the sourness rising into his throat, burning it as he forced himself to continue. “Was it—was it deliberate?”
“We don’t know. I sent a crime scene unit to the house.” Mac hesitated. “I thought about going to the hospital, but I’m the last person anyone in that family wants to see. I should—I should do this for the PCPD, represent them, but—” He met Taggert’s eyes. “I can’t ever forgive myself for putting my job above the people of this city. I should have told Floyd to go to hell and released that warning.”
“I wish I could blame you for keeping quiet, but we’ve all made our mistakes. We all have our collateral damage. How much longer did Carly Corinthos stay locked behind those walls because of our tunnel vision? I knew Ric Lansing was drugging his wife, and I let her stay in that house. How many people have I sacrificed because of Sonny Corinthos?”
Taggert shook his head. “Promise me, Mac, that it’s over. That we’re done putting politics and our own priorities above the people we promised to protect.”
“The next time Floyd tries to bury something to save himself, he’ll have to take my badge with it.” Mac paused for a long moment. “I need to tell my girls. I need to tell them before they hear it from someone else. Will you—”
“I’ll go to the hospital, but those parents aren’t going to want to see me either.” He slid his notebook into his pocket. “This is it. This is the last woman this shitbag gets to destroy. We won’t be able to nail him for murder, but—”
“He killed her all the same.”
Kelly’s: Dining Room
When Ned’s end of the line had gone dead, Elizabeth hadn’t been able to let go of her terrible feeling. She and Jason had both tried to call everyone who might know anything, but Monica was at the hospital working and Ned’s phone just went to voice mail. Jason told her he’d head to the hospital, while Elizabeth decided to track down Bobbie.
She went to Kelly’s, hoping Bobbie might be working on the account books, but the dining room was empty between the lunch rush and dinner hour—without school in session, Kelly’s was usually dead.
Elizabeth set her purse on the counter and sighed at Lucas doing the familiar side jobs she’d performed for the better part of five years. “Hey. Is your mother around? I’ve been trying to call her—”
Lucas finished filling the last sugar canister and set it on the counter. “No, she’s out somewhere with Scott Baldwin, and we have a really crappy cell phone company.” He tipped his head. “You okay? You look upset—”
“I—I guess I’m just trying—” She bit her lip. “Have you talked to Brooke since she got out of the hospital?” She held up a finger as her phone started to ring. She frowned when she saw it was Emily. “Wait a second—Em?”
“Oh, thank God, you answered—Oh, it’s awful, Liz—Dad just called me, and I don’t even remember the last time he cried—”
“Emily, what’s going on—” Elizabeth’s fingers tightened around the phone as her heart sank. “Em—”
“Brooke—Ned—Lois—they found her—and the hospital—they couldn’t—” Emily’s words were coming out haltingly amidst with sobs. “She took her pain meds, but they think she took too many—Oh, God, Liz, she’s gone. It was too late—”
“Emily, are you alone right now?” Elizabeth stood up, almost as if prepared to head straight to the airport and get on a plane to be with her best friend. “Em—”
“Oh, yeah. No. No, I have someone here—I’m flying home tomorrow. Oh, God, Liz.”
She spoke to her another minute, getting assurance that Emily wouldn’t be alone for the rest of the day before closing her phone and looking at Lucas who wore a grim expression. Should she tell him? Should she wait for someone else? Was it even her place?
“What is it?” he asked. “Is it Brooke? Liz, c’mon—”
“She…” Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut. “Apparently Ned and Lois found her a little while ago—” Oh, God, that was why the phone had gone dead—they must have gone to check on her— “She’d taken her pain meds and—I’m so sorry, it was too late—”
Lucas stumbled back, shaking his head. “No. No, that’s not—” He shoved his hands through his hair, gripping strands of it. “We—we were there this morning. We wanted to check on her—I let her—I let her kick me out. I knew I should have stay—I didn’t want to leave her alone—”
He sank onto the ground behind the counter. Elizabeth went to him, knelt down beside him. “Hey. Hey, you couldn’t have known. Lucas—”
“I did know. I did. I knew how upset she was. I was the only one who really knew her at all, and I let her walk away. It’s my fault this happened. I invited her to the movies—I ignored her and didn’t realize—” His voice was panicked now, the words tumbling over themselves as they rushed out of his mouth like dominoes.
“She had a right to walk through that park,” Elizabeth said. She gripped his shoulder. “Lucas—if we had known there was a serial rapist in that park—of course she wouldn’t have walked alone.”
“She’s the only one who knew—” Lucas raised his eyes to her. Swallowed hard. “She knew me. She’s the only one I told, and I’m the one she told. And now she’s gone, and she can’t ever tell her family.”
“Tell them what?” Elizabeth ignored the pain in her chest as she shifted from her seated position. “Lucas—”
“I’m gay. And I told her, and she told me she was, too, but she didn’t have a chance—”
Her heart ached for him, this brave boy holding in all those secrets and the guilt— “She told me, too, Lucas. When I went to see her. I talked to her. And she told me, too.”
He exhaled slowly, let his head fall against the wall, his eyes closed. “She thought her parents would be okay with it, but it was like—thinking it might be okay isn’t the same thing as knowing, and it’s easier to lie to yourself than be honest with everyone else—”
“I’m sorry Brooke never got the chance to come out to her parents. To her family. It’s not your fault, Lucas. But I know how it feels to think about a moment in time you’d give anything to take back. To just make a different choice.”
“If I could just stop myself from giving a damn about Maxie’s idiot boyfriend. Why did I care so much about making sure he knew he wasn’t part of the group? I should have been thinking about Brooke. It was her first night—” He took a deep breath, scrubbed his hands over his face. “I have to go to Maxie and Georgie. Find Dillon. My mother—”
He stood up and frowned as Elizabeth struggled to stand as well. “Are you okay? I know you just got out of the hospital—”
She pressed a hand to her chest, took a deep breath, and was relieved when she felt her lungs expand. “No. I’m fine. Sometimes I can’t catch my breath—”
The bell above Kelly’s jangled as the door opened and someone Elizabeth didn’t know walked in—a boy around Lucas’s age with dark skin and kind eyes.
“Lucas. I was at the hospital—” He stopped short when he saw Elizabeth standing there and just stood, his hands awkwardly at his side.
“It’s okay.” Lucas squared his shoulders and looked at Elizabeth with a half-smile. “It’s okay. She knows. Elizabeth, this is my boyfriend, Felix DuBois. Felix, this is Elizabeth Webber, a friend of the family.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Elizabeth said. “You came because you heard about Brooke?”
“Yeah.” Felix closed the distance and joined them behind the counter. He touched Lucas’s shoulder. “You okay?”
“No, but I need to be for everyone else. I’m the one they depend on.” Lucas looked at his boyfriend, tears glinting in his eyes. “But I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m going to go find Jason and your mother,” Elizabeth told Lucas. She kissed his cheek. “You have my number if you need anything. Felix, it was so nice to meet you.”
Elizabeth left, but looked back through the windows when she was in the courtyard to find Lucas hugging Felix fiercely, his shoulders shaking as he cried.
For once, the three of them had been enjoying a rare day off from work—the first they’d had at the same time since they’d begun a month earlier. When the call had come, they’d been together, and later, Lucky was grateful for that. He wasn’t sure what Dante might have done if he’d been alone.
Luke’s was closed until the evening, so they’d spent the day playing poker, having a few drinks, playing pool—just relaxing for the first time in weeks. It was a good day—a day when they’d put the stress and horror of their first days on the job behind them and just remembered how good it was to be together, best friends working the same job.
Dante had just lifted a freshly opened bottle of Rolling Rock to his lips when his phone flashed. He frowned at it. “It’s my mom—she’s texting me 911 call me. Damn it—”
He hurried to return his mother’s call as Cruz and Lucky waited, worried about what Olivia Falconieri might tell her son. The call was short, no more than thirty seconds as Dante’s face turned a sickening gray. He promised his mother he wouldn’t drive after confirming he’d been drinking and would wait for her.
Then he closed his phone and held it in the palm of his hand.
“Dante,” Cruz said. “What’s going—”
“Brooke died.” Dante stared down at the phone. “An overdose. They don’t—” He shook his head. “They don’t know if it was an accident or—”
Or if Brooke had been unable to live with the pain of what had happened to her and the media circus surrounding her. Cruz and Lucky traded looks.
He set his phone on the table and lurched from the table where they’d been playing a hand of poker. He went to the bar and took down a bottle of Jim Beam, pouring himself a shot.
“It’s my fault,” Dante said. “I knew. We all knew there was a rapist out there and we shut our mouths and toed the line. And then I leaked the damn story—and they found her—”
“Someone else leaked Brooke’s name to take the heat off of them,” Lucky interrupted. He took the bottle from Dante, afraid his friend would just start pulling straight from it. He poured shots for himself and Cruz. “You leaked the story. The media decided to run with the name of a rape victim. Not you. You wanted to protect the public. I’m just sorry I didn’t leak it myself.”
“I should have checked on her more. Ma asked me to look out for her when Brooke moved here-”
“And our first day on the job, we got thrown a case where we all pulled double shifts,” Cruz reminded his roommate. “We’ve been on the job for a month, Dante. If we knew all the answers, we’d be in charge.” He looked at Lucky. “Right?”
“Right. And look, maybe we can’t—we can’t help Brooke anymore. That pisses me off. But the other women who were attacked—we can still help them. How many women did you already help by leaking the story?” Lucky asked. “We can do whatever is necessary to find this scumbag and make sure no one else goes through this.”
“It’s not going to be enough,” Dante muttered. He threw back another shot.
“Hey.” Lucky waited until his friend met his eyes. “When I was sixteen, I found one of my friends crawling out of the park bushes, bleeding, bruised, and—” He shook his head. “Destroyed.”
“Lu mentioned it. Elizabeth Webber? The Lansing case?” Dante grimaced. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Liz and I don’t—we’re not really close anymore. For a lot of reasons. But back then, I was one of the few people who knew. I had a front row seat to watch her put herself back together, but part of me always knew—I always knew it was my fault.”
“Lucky—” Cruz began but Lucky shook his head.
“We made plans to go to a dance. And I knew—” He squeezed his eyes shut because God, these were some of the few memories of Elizabeth he’d managed to uncover in the last week. He couldn’t remember the good times, couldn’t remember loving her yet, but he could remember this—the brutal flashes of her recovery and anguish. Had she ever thought about suicide? She’d never said, but maybe—
“I knew she had a crush on me, and I knew she saw it like a date. I didn’t see her that way, so when I had the chance to go with someone else, I backed out. And Liz lied about having another date, but I think part of me always knew it was a lie.” He dragged his hands out of his hair. “When she didn’t show up at the dance or at Kelly’s, I went looking for her. If I had been ten minutes earlier—if I hadn’t backed out—”
“You weren’t a cop, Lucky. You didn’t know there was a monster lurking in the shadows,” Dante cut in. “But okay. Okay.” He swallowed hard and bowed his head, lowering it to rest against the bar. “I get it. I can’t wallow in the regrets. I can’t change anything. I just need to make it better.” He exhaled slowly, a shaky breath. “We have to find this guy. We have to stop it from happening again.”
“Yeah.” Lucky dug out his cell phone as it began to ring. “Kelsey—”
“Oh, God. Did you—”
“Dante’s mother called him. We’re here at the bar. Where are you?”
“I’m—” He could hear her crying on her end of the line. “I’m at my apartment. I called Scott, but I don’t—he said there wasn’t anything we could do, but—”
“Hey, I’m gonna come get you, okay? Dante’s going to be with his family, but I’ll bring Cruz, and we’ll just—we’ll just sit together.” He saw Cruz nod. “There’s nothing any of us can do, so we’ll just do nothing together.”
“I’ll be there soon.”
He set the phone on the desk, then sighed. “If your family needs anything, Dante—”
“Thanks.” Dante scrubbed his hands over his face. “It’s gonna destroy everyone back home. I don’t—” He looked at them. “We can’t let another family go through this.”
Port Charles Grille: Dining Room
Bobbie pushed her salad around her plate, stabbing at pieces of spinach and strawberries aimlessly. Scott wiped his mouth with his napkin and set it beside his plate, frowning at her. “What’s wrong? You’ve barely said a word since you got here-”
“What—” Bobbie blinked at him, then sighed. “Oh. I’m just…worried about…” She sat back in her chair, placing her fork at the side of her plate. “About Carly. And Sonny. How they’re getting back to normal. And with Elizabeth’s hearing coming up—”
“It should be a slam dunk to get the restraining order renewed,” Scott said, “but then again, that damn judge nearly let him stay in charge of her medical care because he’s a goddamn Puritan—” he grimaced. “I guess I should be relieved for once that Jason Morgan has his own personal security. I don’t need Lansing on the loose going after Elizabeth again.”
“I appreciate how you’ve handled this case, Scott. With both Elizabeth and Carly—they’re my family,” she told him. “And I know how much you loathe Sonny—”
“Yeah, well, the law is the law, and—I still think Corinthos is the scum of the earth, but—” he shrugged. “Morgan’s different. Where he is in his life—that’s not his fault. Corinthos took advantage of him when he didn’t know any better, and this is the only life he knows now.”
“I suppose.” Bobbie sighed. “I’m just—I’m worried about Carly. About them all. Jason and Elizabeth put themselves under such pressure to find Carly—Elizabeth knew how desperate he was, how much I wanted her found—and I know she stayed longer than she should have—”
“Yeah, Corinthos was a real stand-up asshole, wasn’t he? Letting everyone else do the work.” Scott scowled, leaning back as the waiter removed their salad plates. “Worried more about keeping himself out of jail.”
Bobbie hesitated, shook her head. “He wasn’t handling it well, Scott. I think it reminded him too much of what happened to Lily and you remember that she was pregnant.”
“Another one of his victims—” Scott frowned. “Not handling it how? What, did he drink himself into a stupor? You know, if your daughter had any sense, she’d walk out on him. He treats women like crap. I’m not even talking about Karen. What about what he did to Brenda and Lily? To Hannah Scott?”
“I just wish he’d talk to someone—I don’t want it happening again. The next time, it might not be so easy to bring him back to reality,” Bobbie said. She then pressed her lips together. “I shouldn’t get into it. You’re prosecuting Ric. Sonny might be a witness.”
“Right.” Scott’s phone, tucked in the pocket of his suit jacket, jangled. He reached for it and growled under his breath. “Mac Scorpio. His officers probably screwed something else up—” He flipped it open. “Baldwin.”
His brows drew together. “What? Say that again—how—Jesus. Ned and Lois—Okay. Okay. Yeah. I’ll—I’ll be in.” He stared at his phone for a long moment before gently closing it and setting it on the table.
“I knew about the serial rapist. Did I tell you that?” Scott asked. He met Bobbie’s eyes and she was surprised by the way color had leeched from his skin, leaving his complexion almost chalk gray. “But I figured it was okay to keep it quiet because at least the PCPD had linked the cases, and I was gonna keep on top of them. We didn’t need any more bad publicity.”
“Was there another attack?” Her heart felt heavy, ached as she repeated her question. “Scott, did it happen again—”
“Brooke Lynn. She took all of her pain medication, and by the time Ned and Lois found her—it was too late.”
She pressed her hands against her mouth, stifling a sharp cry. “Scott—Oh, God. Was it—”
“They don’t know. It might have been an accident.” He dipped his head. “Those parents are going through the worst thing that could happen to them because I decided it would be bad for my office if people knew there was a serial rapist loose.”
“Scott—” Bobbie just shook her head. “I should go. I want to check on Lucas, on Maxie and Georgie.” She stayed seated for another moment. “But yes. You’re right. You and the PCPD nearly killed my daughter and Elizabeth because getting Sonny was more important to you. How many more women were attacked and raped because of the PCPD and Floyd? You let it happen.”
She got to her feet. “For all that you condemn Sonny and Jason for their crimes, I wish you’d look in the mirror. Those women didn’t matter to you anymore than Carly and Elizabeth did.”
General Hospital: Emergency Room
Ned was good in an emergency—he thought quickly and coolly under pressure. When his ex-wife had been sobbing, crying, rocking their daughter in her arms, Ned hadn’t broken down.
He had picked up the phone, called the authorities, and waited for them to arrive. He’d let them in, watched with an arm around Lois’s shoulder as they laid Brooke flat on the floor and attempted to resuscitate her. He could see the looks on their faces, understood the emotions and silent conversation the paramedics shared.
His daughter was gone, but they weren’t comfortable pronouncing it on the scene. No, a Quartermaine family member had to die in a hospital, declared by a doctor. By someone who could withstand the might of an enraged family.
They had forced a breathing tube down her throat, loaded her onto a stretcher, and then whisked her out of the room. Ned had taken Lois down to their car, not even noticing when his discarded cell phone crunched under his shoes.
He would have moved faster, would have broken the laws of physics to hurry to the hospital if he’d had even one ounce of hope that upon arrival, his daughter would be alive.
But he’d touched her skin. He’d seen the way her arms moved as Lois rocked her—dangling, without life.
He stood now, outside a cubicle, watching almost passively as Lois sobbed, as Monica embraced her, kept her from sinking to the floor. He felt Alan’s hand on his shoulder but said nothing. His mother tried to talk to him, but he ignored her.
There was nothing to say, nothing to feel.
He felt empty. He felt useless. Nothing in his life experience had ever really prepared him for this. He knew how to solve other people’s problems, navigate his family through their crises.
He simply did not have the toolset for his own misery.
He blinked at the sound of his name and turned to find his best friends standing just behind him, Alexis’s face tear stained, Jax at her side, like a statue of stone. Neither of them approached him, just kept their distance.
He cleared his throat, looked around and found Lois now on the seats, still sobbing but her tears were silent, her shoulders trembling as Monica and Alan sat on either side of her. Tracy was talking to a shaken Edward near the doors.
He looked back at his friends. “She’s gone,” Ned managed. The words felt wrong. They didn’t seem as if he’d even said them. “My little girl.”
“We know. Alan called us.” Alexis took a gentle step forward, but still didn’t reach out towards him. “We don’t know what to do.”
“There’s nothing—” His throat closed. Something lurched inside of him, a flutter really. Nothing more than that. It began deep in his stomach, traveled through his lungs and up into his brain. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs squeezed as if they’d been clamped shut.
His knees failed him, and he sank to the ground, blinking rapidly as it finally seemed to hit.
His daughter, his bright, talented, shining beacon of good and light in this world—she was gone.
A hand rested on his back, between his shoulder blades. He looked to find Jax kneeling beside him as Alexis bent in front.
“She’s gone,” Ned repeated. “My daughter is dead.” The first tears slid over his eyelashes, down his cheeks, dripping off his chin. He felt the cool splash of them on the skin of his neck. “I can’t bring her back.”
“No,” Jax said. “You can’t.”
And somehow, that simple truth was all he needed to hear—Brooke Lynn was dead. And nothing Ned could do—all the power and might of his family, all the money and wealth in the world—
Nothing could change it. Nothing could make it not true.
He drew in a shuddering breath, squeezed his eyes shut and let Alexis finally embrace him, burying his face in her neck, feeling Jax’s arms close around him.
He could never bring her back. He could never turn back time and take away all the wrong he’d done in her life and the pain she’d suffered in the park.
But he could stop it from happening again. He could keep another family from being destroyed, another father or mother from feeling this devastation.
He was going to burn down every single person who had put themselves above the people they’d sworn to protect and make sure no one ever forgot Brooke Lynn’s name.
His daughter was gone.
And someone had to pay.
Condo: Living Room
Elizabeth was curled up on the sofa when Jason came back about an hour after she’d left Lucas at Kelly’s. He looked as exhausted as she felt. He dropped his keys on the table and sat next to her, tugging her into his arms, letting his chin rest on the top of her head.
“You stayed at the hospital for a while,” she murmured, closing her eyes as she let herself sink into the warmth and safety of his embrace. “I wanted to stop by, but I wasn’t sure—”
“I stayed for Monica. She’s always taking care of everyone else,” he told her. “But I figured she’d take it hard. She talked about Brooke a few times while you were in the hospital. Brooke was having a tough time after she moved here, and Monica said she’d tried to reach out to her.”
His fingertips trailed up and down her bare arm. “I talked to Emily. She’s flying in tomorrow.”
“Yeah, she called me. I was with Lucas Jones when she called. He was so upset—apparently he, Dillon, and Georgie had stopped by this morning and—” Elizabeth sighed. “Brooke pushed them away.” She tilted her head back to look at him. “Do they know—do they know if it was an accident?”
He sighed and looked at the ceiling. “Taggert came to the hospital to talk to Ned and Lois. They said they’d sent a crime scene unit, but there was no note. Just the bottle of pills. Empty. That doesn’t mean anything, but—”
“How are Ned and Lois? That’s a stupid question.” She shook her head. “They’re devastated. They’re probably blaming themselves. I blame myself. If I had been here to get that call—I thought about reaching out to her again—”
She appreciated when Jason didn’t immediately tell her she was wrong, only drew her closer again. She tucked her head into his neck, closing her eyes again. “I just—I remembered that I wanted to be alone and I always pushed everyone away. It took a while for me to even really tell Lucky what happened. I mean, he knew. He, Luke, and Bobbie—they all knew that first night, but I couldn’t say it. I wanted it not to have happened.”
Tears slid down her cheek, burning her skin. “I could pretend because no one else knew. Bobbie never told anyone. Luke and Lucky made me feel safe—Lucky always let me know I wasn’t alone. I was in my room one day—I hadn’t gone to school, and he just sat outside my front door, pounding on it for me to let him in. I didn’t. I couldn’t. But he was there, and I just—it made it okay. For a moment.”
“I’m glad you had that.”
“But Brooke couldn’t pretend. Everyone knew. Everyone looked at her, and I should have known that—” She stopped. Took a deep breath. “But I’m going through my own thing. That’s what Gail would remind me. A year ago, I could have thought about nothing but Brooke. But I’m still grappling with what Ric did to me. And it was easy to push Brooke’s trauma out of my head because mine took up so much space.”
“You did everything you could, everything you were capable of.” Jason’s fingers slid through her hair, letting the strands fall to her shoulders. “I’m sorry for Ned, for Lois. They were the first people after my accident that I could manage to be in the room with for more than five minutes. Them, then Lila. They made me feel normal.” He was quiet for a moment. “Monica asked if we’d come to a service at the house if they have one here. She said she’d understand if we didn’t—”
“I just want to do whatever is easier for Ned—I mean—he knows Brooke called me—”
“He won’t blame you, Elizabeth—” he hesitated. “I’ll have Monica put some feelers out. I get what you’re saying. But he won’t blame you.”
“I just want this all to stop. I want them to catch this guy. He may not have forced Brooke to take those pills, but God, Jason, he killed her. I hope he burns in hell.”